FCS Playoffs Quarterfinal: Richmond-Eastern Washington

FCS Playoffs Quarterfinal

The Matchup – Richmond (10-3) at No. 2 seed Eastern Washington (11-1)

Kickoff – 4 p.m. ET Saturday at Roos Field (8,600) in Cheney, Washington

Coverage – ESPN3

Series – First meeting

Coaches: Richmond: Danny Rocco (43-21, five seasons; 90-41 overall); Eastern Washington: Beau Baldwin (84-31, nine seasons; 94-34 overall)

Players to Watch – Richmond: QB Kevin Johnson (30 of 45, 604 yards, 3 TDs; 2 rushing TDs), RB Deontez Thompson (167 carries, 927 yards, 9 TDs; 24 receptions, 211 yards, 2 TDs), WR Brian Brown (77 receptions, 1,441 yards, 11 TDs), DT Winston Craig (57 TT, 11.5 TFL, 8 sacks, 8 QB hurries, 2 blocked kicks), LB Omar Howard (96 TT, 9 TFL, 2 QB hurries); Eastern Washington: QB Gage Gubrud (347 of 505, 4,520 yards, 42 TDs, 11 INTs; 531 rushing yards, 5 TDs), WR/PR Cooper Kupp (101 receptions, 1,392 yards, 14 TDs), WR/KR Shaq Hill (72 receptions, 1,077 yards, 15 TDs), DE Samson Ebukam (60 TT, 9.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks), S Zach Bruce (100 TT, 5 TFL, 3 INTs)

The Skinny – These two perennial powers won two of the three FCS titles prior to North Dakota State's current five-year run, Richmond in 2008 and Eastern Washington in 2010. Rocco is considered a candidate for the coaching position at Delaware and Baldwin interviewed with Nevada this week. Richmond, from CAA Football, is making its second long trip of the FCS playoffs, totaling 4,131 miles of travel between North Dakota and Eastern Washington, the two Big Sky Conference co-champs. But the Spiders will arrive with the No. 2-ranked passing defense (156.3 ypg), which is pivotal considering what EWU's offense will throw at them. Cornerbacks Tafon Mainsah and Micah Keels bring good size to the position and have combined for five interceptions and 20 pass breakups. The play of safety Brendan Coniker (88 tackles) has helped compensate for the season-ending loss of All-American David Jones. Johnson is doing more than just managing the offense since replacing injured QB Kyle Lauletta (ACL tear) at the start of the playoffs. Johnson has committed only one turnover (a fumble) in his first two starts. Griffin Trau's game-ending field goal to beat North Dakota 27-24 was his FCS-leading 23rd field goal (out of 26 attempts), and teammate Ricky Segers is 2 of 2 with 50- and 51-yarders. Eastern Washington has improved considerably on defense from porous units of the past. The Eagles shut out Central Arkansas in the second half of their 31-14 second-round win last Saturday. Four defensive players – Bruce, Ebukam, DT Jay-Tell Tull and LB Miquiyah Zamora (nursing an injury) – made the All-Big Sky first team. But the Eagles are susceptible against the run (200.1 ypg) and the Spiders will try to control the game clock. Despite the defensive improvement, the Eagles still soar because of their offense. Gubrud is the FCS leader in passing yards and total yards of offense (5,501). His favorite target, Kupp, is the most-decorated wide receiver in FCS history, with his career totals of 412 receptions, 6,156 receiving yards and 68 TD receptions all Division I records. The Eagles have three 1,000-yard receivers with Kupp, Hill and Kendrick Bourne (1,051).

Up Next – The winner will play either Wofford (10-3) or Youngstown State (10-3) in the FCS semifinals Dec. 16 or 17.

Prediction – The Spiders are battle-tested, having beaten five ranked teams, but the travel and the way Eastern Washington will spread them out will have a toll in the second half. Snow showers are possible. Eastern Washington 31-27.